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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Ruth Pitkanen Johnson papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1940-1992
Creator: Johnson, Ruth Pitkanen (1908-1992)
Extent: 5.00 linear inches.
Collection Number: IWA0350
Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Summary: Artist and educator from Finland who taught drawing theory at the University of Illinois.

Access: The papers are open for research.

Use: Copyright has not been transferred to the University of Iowa.

Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 471) were donated by Ruth Pitkanen Johnson's daughter Juliet Kaufmann in 1998.

Preferred Citation: Ruth Pitkanen Johnson papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

Repository: Iowa Women's Archives
Address: 100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5068
Curator: Kären Mason

Ruth Pitkanen Johnson, artist and educator, was born in 1908 in Oulu, Finland to The Reverend Matti Pitkanen and Elin Durchman Pitkanen. When Ruth Pitkanen was just three years old, her family moved to the United States and settled in the upper peninsula of Michigan where her father had been hired by the English Methodist Conference of Michigan as a minister.

Ruth Pitkanen attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on scholarship, graduating in 1932 with a BA in art education. She struggled to find work until 1934, when her former roommate helped her secure a position at J.B. Young Junior High School in Davenport, Iowa. Pitkanen taught at the school until 1938, when she married Norman Johnson and they moved to Gambier, Ohio. The couple moved again in the 1940s, this time to Iowa City, Iowa, to earn their masters degrees.

During World War II, Norman Johnson was commissioned into the Navy. Ruth Johnson remained in Iowa City with their three children. Following the war, the family moved several times, living in Washington, Colorado and Minnesota before settling in Champaign, Illinois.

Ruth Johnson taught drawing theory for thirteen years at the University of Illinois in Champaign, retiring in 1971. She and her husband then moved to Minnesota. They lived there until 1983, when they returned to Iowa City to be closer to a facility which could treat Norman Johnson for his illness, which had symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease. Ruth Johnson became active at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center, serving as volunteer art exhibit coordinator. She continued to be involved in the Senior Center after her husband's death in 1986. Ruth Johnson died in 1992.

The Ruth Pitkanen Johnson papers date from the 1940s to 1992, although many are undated; they measure 5 linear inches. The papers primarily consist of Johnson's artwork in the form of sketches and holiday greeting cards, along with some writings. The collection also contains a few newspaper clippings.

The sketchbook contains Native American-style artwork. Other sketches include landscapes, animals, and designs for the silver jewelry Ruth Johnson made.

The writings are mostly autobiographical. They focus primarily on Ruth Johnson's childhood experiences with her parents and on caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease, among other topics. They also include a copy of "The Riches in Poverty" which was published in a collection of Finnish-American writings titled Sampo: The Magic Mill . The writings also include a poem written by Johnson's daughter Juliet Kaufmann.

Browse by Series:
Series 3: SKETCHES

  • Box 1:
  • Newspaper clippings - 1987
  • Series 2: GREETING CARDS
  • Box 1:
  • Greeting cards - 1940-1999
  • Series 3: SKETCHES
  • Box 1:
  • Assorted, undated
  • Binder, undated
  • Sketchbook, undated
  • Sketch pad, undated
  • Series 4: WRITINGS, 1989 AND UNDATED
  • Box 1:
  • "My Career as a Working Woman"
  • "My Parents: Two Methodist Missionaries as I Remember Them"
  • "A Summer Tapestry" [re: childhood bout with chorea or St. Vitus' dance; summer on farm]
  • "Cares and Cures" [re: illnesses and their cures]
  • "The Dark Green Cape" [re: childhood visit to Finnish community in Eagle Harbor, Michigan, on Lake Superior]
  • "Beginnings" [re: family history in Finland and childhood in U.S.]
  • "The Angel-Cloud" [re: younger sister who died at age seven of bulbar polio]
  • "The Hand of God" [re: poor black man who came to family's home for food] - 1920
  • "Economics: Lesson 1" [re: childhood incidents]
  • "Just Call Me 'Sam'" [re: names]
  • "Flag Day--Birthday"
  • "My Crowning Glory" [re: hairstyles]
  • "Oh, Do You Remember that Verse" [re: songs]
  • "Songs of Jubilation"
  • "The Piano"
  • "After a Talk About Durer's Prints"
  • "When Parents Grow Up"
  • "Vicarious Pleasures"
  • "Picture This"
  • "Saturday is Bath Day"
  • "Threads That Bind" [re: sewing and needlecraft]
  • "Dealing with Alzheimer's Disease"
  • "Time Is"
  • "The Riches in Poverty" (manuscript and published version)
  • Box 1:
  • Poem by Juliet Kaufmann, - 1992